Gabriel Makhlouf has a problem, to be sure

The vultures are circling around Gabriel Makhlouf. He is supposedly heading to Ireland to take up a senior role there at the end of the month, but that has become a problem in itself. Now that his behaviour over the ‘hack’ of the Treasury website has been shown to be incompetent at best and outright dishonest at worst, the Bank of Ireland is not so sure that it wants its newly appointed Central Bank governor to take up his appointment at all.

Irish politicians say they’re concerned New Zealand Treasury Secretary Gabriel Makhlouf will become the country’s next Central Bank governor amid the Budget “hack” scandal.

Last week, Makhlouf said the Treasury had been systematically hacked only hours after the National Party revealed it had access to Budget information.

But Treasury later admitted that it hadn’t been hacked and someone had only “exploited a feature in the website search tool” which “does not appear to be unlawful”.
Public statements made by Makhlouf are now under investigation by the States Services Commissioner.
Pearse Doherty, finance spokesperson for left-wing Irish republican party Sinn Féin, told The Irish Times Makhlouf should not start his role with the Central Bank until the investigation has concluded.
Doherty said it “wasn’t a small issue”.
“We need to make sure that someone in the highest position in the Central Bank has proper judgement,” he told The Irish Times.

Mr Doherty chose his words carefully, but the word he probably wanted was ‘integrity’. The head of the Central Bank of Ireland needs to have integrity.

Ireland’s Fianna Fáil party member Michael McGrath has also reportedly sent a letter to the Irish Finance Minister.

“The governor of the Central Bank is one of the most sensitive and important roles in our States,” the letter says.

“It is vital we have full confidence in the holder of the office.”


Thing are not looking good for Makhlouf. Believing he was on his way to Dublin, he shot from the hip over the leaking of Budget information and handled the whole affair very badly. In a situation like that, the head of Treasury ought to know better than to shoot his mouth off before he knew what the true position was; so, at the very least, the Irish do indeed have good reason to question Makhlouf’s judgement.

There is speculation that Makhlouf was told by Grant Robertson to claim that the Treasury website was hacked in order to turn a piece of government and Treasury incompetence against the National opposition. If this is true (and we do not know either way) then Makhlouf is in a difficult position. If he is protecting the minister of finance, he has put his own career in jeopardy. If that is not the case, then his actions were not those of a professional and competent head of Treasury and he deserves his career to be in tatters anyway.

But if such speculation is true, the only way that Makhlouf can save his own skin is by coming clean. If it turns out he was not actually incompetent, but under instructions from the minister of finance, then he might save his job in Ireland. It will not be a good look for Robertson but otherwise, Makhlouf’s career is over.

Of course, a wise and competent senior civil servant would never spill the beans in such a way, but Makhlouf has shown neither wisdom nor competence in his handling of this matter so far.

Question Time should be interesting in the house this week, as the opposition tries its hardest to get some of the government’s claims about the matter on the record. If the findings of the SSC enquiry show that the house has been misled, that could be enough to bring down the government.

Don’t get your hopes up though. The government will dodge and weave; they’ll avoid direct answers and will adopt their usual disrespectful and disdainful attitude towards members of the opposition, snarling away as ever. And that other shining beacon of competence and professional behaviour, the speaker of the house, will be there as henchman to protect the princess and her cohorts. What could possibly go wrong?

This matter ain’t over yet. Not by a long way. In the meantime, Makhlouf might want to dust off his CV. I hear there are lots of good jobs going in hospitality these days.